PreS-Gr 1 After their steamship en route to Boston is wrecked in a storm, a troupe of circus animals escapes bad treatment and disaster, finding its way to an island off the coast of Maine. The 1800s residents are surprised to find zebras eating their gardens and alligators lounging on woodpiles. Sympathies change when a tiger saves a toddler from a blazing shed. When a messenger announces that the cruel circus owner is returning to claim his menagerie, the citizens assist the animals in disguises and camouflage that confound him, leaving the friends to a peaceful coexistence. Van Dusen's rhymed text keeps a rollicking beat. His illustrations burst with color and energy and utilize perspective and texture to add drama and humor. Period details create a counterpoint with elements like a gorilla in a lifeboat. The spread of the animals in "hiding" is pure genius. The book honors the real circus animals that inspired this story. - Gay Lynn Van Vleck, Henrico County Library, Glen Allen, VA
Copyright 2009 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission
Mr. Paine, the greedy, mustachioed manager of a 19th-century circus, browbeats his ship's captain into sailing onward on a foggy night: "Don't stop! Keep going!/ I've got a show to do!/ Just get me down to Boston town/ tomorrow, sir, by two!" The ship crashes and sinks, but the animals swim to a small Maine island, where they confound the villagers until the tiger saves a girl from a fire. After that, the islanders help hide the animals when Mr. Paine returns for them. Van Dusen's (the Mercy Watson books) verse is tightly constructed, and his cartoonlike spreads are polished, literally and figuratively: the exaggerated chins and noses of the humans gleam, and sunsets and firelight illuminate the scenes dramatically. Other than Mr. Paine, readers don't get too close to any of the characters; the focus is on the action. The fantasy of African wildlife on a quiet Maine island will absorb a read-aloud audience, and a clever hide-and-seek page lets readers hunt for the animals, which are concealed from Mr. Paine. A final page supplies the story's (much sadder) historical source. Ages 4--8. (Sept.)Copyright 2015 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.